Methods: Using data obtained from two state-wide child welfare agencies, this study examined long-term outcomes for a population of former foster children (N=28,517 in Illinois and 13,779 in New Jersey) who exited care through adoption between 2000 and 2010. Survival analysis examined pre-permanency factors associated with post-permanency return to care up to the age of majority.
Results:Descriptive analyses showed that of children adopted from the public child welfare system in Illinois and New Jersey, 5.5% and 4.4% experienced a return to care respectively. Children who returned care in both states were, on average, 12 years old. Multivariate survival analyses indicated that, controlling for child’s race and gender, a curvilinear relationship was observed for the child’s age at the time of legal permanence. Specifically in Illinois, using the youngest children as the reference group (children whose adoption or guardianship was finalized prior to their third birthday), we found that children who finalized between the ages of 3 and 5, 6-8, and 9-11 had similar hazards (HR =1.51; 1.69; 1.56 respectively), and the hazards decreased to 0.97 for the oldest age group (i.e., youth who achieved permanence at the age of 12 or older). Hazards for discontinuity increased with each move a child had in foster care (HR=1.07), and children who spent long periods of time in foster care (three or more years) were slightly less likely (HR=0.89) to experience discontinuity. Children adopted by relatives were more likely to experience discontinuity (HR=1.20). Data were similar for New Jersey, although the risk for relative adoptions was slightly higher (HR=1.78).
Conclusions/Implications: This study suggests that children in adoptive homes experience lower placement instability than is commonly feared by many practitioners and policy-makers. Risks do increase, however, as children move into adolescence, suggesting a risk associated with developmental tasks, and these findings were repeated in both states. Two different interventions were selected to be tested with randomly selected families with adopted adolescents, which will be discussed.